One speaks for a nation as hopelessly buggered as our one at great personal risk, but if it is possible to summarise the national mood, it is that the people are fed up.
Not fed up, especially, of being locked up in their own homes, not even especially fed up of dying hundreds of avoidable deaths day after day for weeks on end.
They are just fed up of being messed around. They’re fed up of not having a clue what they’re meant to be doing. A day and night passed between Boris Johnson’s much-trumpeted televised coronavirus statement, and his appearing at the despatch box of the House of Commons to give fully his second statement of the year.
That time was filled with questions such as, to name but a few:
“Am I meant to be going back to work? First you said Monday, now you’re saying Wednesday? How am I meant to get to work if I’m meant to keep two metres from people but the trains are all packed? What am I meant to do with my kids if I go back to work and there’s no schools or nurseries open?”
“Given that I see other people’s parents in parks every single day, am I allowed to see my own? Why am I allowed to have a cleaner come into my house but not my mum?”
“Someone in my street WhatsApp group says I’m now allowed to play basketball with my grandma? Is that right?”
You know, that kind of thing. So when Keir Starmer has patiently sat and listened to 10 long minutes of utterly meaningless waffle, and then asked the prime minister six crystal clear questions, one after the other, on absolutely specific issues, now, really now, was not the time for Johnson to rise again at waffle for six minutes more, which, of course, is exactly what he did.
Starmer wanted to know what actual, real people want to know. Things like, on Sunday I was told to go back to work on Monday, now I’m being told to go back to work on Wednesday, but the guidance for how I do it still hasn’t been issued, and I’ve got nowhere to leave my children while I do.
I’ve listened to Johnson’s answers several times now. To type any of it out would be futile.
“We will count on employers to be reasonable,” is the most transcribable bit. “Businesses and employers with common sense do understand that.”
Because of course, nobody out there has ever had to work for an unreasonable boss. Everybody has common sense. No one, for example, has ever given birth in a toilet because they were too scared to phone in sick.
Who needs actual clear instructions about how people in overcrowded cities get to and from work without breaking rules that don’t exist, when you can just draw upon the great reservoirs of “common sense” and “reasonableness”, which, in case you’ve not realised, will also dig you out of a hole when it all goes wrong.
If you don’t actually tell people what to do, it can all be their own fault.
Given, in the last 24 hours, the first ministers of both Wales and Scotland have had to issue statements disowning Johnson’s coronavirus plan, such as it is, and tell English people that while they are free to do as they please in their own country, they are in effect banned from theirs, it might be worth widening the lens to a little incident last summer.
Back when English people were allowed to go to Wales, Johnson went to a primary school there, and issued some inquisitive 11-year-olds with some urgent life advice. “I’m afraid I didn’t do enough work at university. My strong advice to you is don’t waste time at university,” he told them. “Don’t get drunk. I frittered too much time at university, I’m afraid to say.”
Johnson left Oxford University with a second class degree, and in the three and a half decades since has never for a second imagined anything other than all that deprived him of the first to which he was entitled was his own idleness.
(Obviously, this stuff doesn’t matter to most people, but we’re not talking about most people here. Thirteen years ago, when I was a runner on the Andrew Marr Show, I brought David Cameron a coffee while he was busily explaining to the makeup lady how he’d got a first from Oxford, which was more than either George Osborne or Johnson managed. She would occasionally tell me that doing “the politicians” on a Sunday was “payback” for getting to do Strictly the night before.)
Evidently, his own fecklessness still burns. He has seen where overconfidence and b******t will get you. But it does alas leave an unanswerable question that he has never bothered to ask himself.
What if, what if it’s he’s not just lazy? What if he’s lazy AND useless?
Because as things stand, he’s not even going to be scraping a third on his coronavirus module, and one imagines he really is trying his hardest at this, people are dying after all.
Maybe that is the question whirring behind those tiny tired eyes, at long last? Oh god. Maybe I was always this crap, I was just too lazy to find out?
Nah, who are we kidding? He doesn’t have it in him.